Saturday, 18 April 2009

Gram panchayats hit by shortage of funds

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Thousands of gram panchayats in the State suffer from acute shortage of funds primarily because they fail to collect taxes or generate money from sale of natural resources.
About 95 per cent of the 21354 gram panchayats in the State completely depend on State and Central funds even for small development works and 70 per cent of them borrow money from the State to pay salaries to their staff.
The major task ahead for the 21,000 and odd village sarpanches who took charge last week is to find ways and means of generating resources if they want to concentrate on development works. "Gram panchayats can easily increase their revenue by taking up horticulture on panchayat lands or growing timber-yielding trees or alternatively developing fish ponds in the village outskirts," says Yelamanchili Babu Rajendra Prasad, president of Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Chambers.
Though village panchayats have been empowered to collect property, water and entertainment (cable TV) taxes and cess on fish tanks and marketing, rarely do sarpanches achieve 100 per cent target. Hardly a couple of hundred villages could be classified as "100 per cent tax collectors". According to officials in the panchayat raj department, the tax collection percentage range between 40 and 60 on an average, leaving the villages financially starved. Local political equations also come in the way of tax realisation.
Buckling under political pressure, sarpanches in Prakasam district often fail to focus on new revenue resources. They fear that local voters will oppose any increase in the tax structure and reject their candidature in the next elections.
Gram panchayat needs funds for construction of roads and drains, supply of drinking water, providing street lamps and maintenance of sanitation
and other local developmental activities. The funds given by the Central and the State governments under these heads are not sufficient to meet the local requirements. SJRY funds are mainly used for the development of
SC colonies in rural areas.
Prakasam district panchayat officer Vijay Kumar said the State government had given a free hand to local bodies to collect taxes and cess from villagers for developmental activities.
Unlike their counterparts in other places, sarpanches in Guntur district are known for their strong tax collection methods. Most of the 1022 village panchayats in Guntur district have been doing well in collection of property taxes, water taxes, marketing cess and fish tank cess. The panchayats are also mobilising funds through sale of grass, growing trees like subabul, teak and guava.
However, panchayats fail to collect entertainment tax from cable TV operators. In places where the sarpanches are assertive, the tax collection has been always high. Last year some panchayats recorded a record 70 per cent tax collection, according to Guntur District Panchayat Officer Radha Krishna. Tax evasion has been a problem in villages falling under the faction-hit Palnadu area.
Of the 972 gram panchayats in Krishna district more than 100 do not have permanent buildings for offices and an equal number of gram panchayats has no executive officers. Though the district administration provided money to mandal offices for construction of buildings, panchayats were left to fend for themselves. Only a few gram panchayats could manage to get own buildings during the last five years.
In the absence of steady flow of funds from the State and the Central governments, most of the villages look forward to the respective MPs and MLAs for financial support to meet basic facilities. In several cases, gram panchayats depend on the State government for payment of salaries to their staff.
However, village panchayats like Vuyyuru and Gurazala have been improving their financial resources by concentrating on the local tax collection. These two gram panchayats recorded 100 per cent tax collection in the last three years.
In Khammam district there is a wide gap between the facilities being provided to citizens in municipalities and panchayats. The newly elected sarpanches of 707 panchayats in the district demand that the State government delegate more powers to them to take up development works without looking forward to funds from the State.
Khammam district panchayat officer John Wesley said there is no bar on sarpanches from collecting taxes and spending them on laying roads, supplying drinking water and providing sanitation. Many villages in the district have huge resources of granite. They could collect cess effectively on quarries to improve their financial status.
Only one gram panchayat in the Naxal-hit Warangal district is self-sufficient in revenue generation. The district has 1,104 gram panchayats. Gangadevipally village panchayat in Geesukonda mandal has become financially independent thanks to a rigorous tax drive launched by the sarpanch. Only three gram panchayats - Parkal, Mahabubabad, and Narsampet -- collect advertisement tax on hoardings and entertainment tax on cable TV. Shockingly more than 1,000 villages failed to realise their full property tax from the residents.

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